Shyam Benegal
Mohar Basu (MID-DAY; April 12, 2017)

The spate of controversies surrounding a minute-long kissing scene in Daniel Craig’s 2015 film Spectre, which Censor Board chief Pahlaj Nihalani clipped to half its length, led to an uproar among industry folk. That the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was acting like a censoring body, instead of a certifying one was affecting the creative freedom of artistes, argued filmmakers.

This incident, among others, prompted the Information & Broadcasting Ministry to set up an independent committee to review the guidelines followed by the CBFC. The Board faced the wrath of the industry for demanding major cuts in films including Omkara (2006), Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (2016) and Udta Punjab (2016). The Shyam Benegal Committee Report, headed by the veteran filmmaker, attempted to formulate a holistic approach towards certification of films. The panel, including Kamal Haasan, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, ad-guru Piyush Pandey, and Bhawana Somaaya, among others, upheld the ideology that scissoring movie scenes is not a power that must be vested in the CBFC; its role must be limited to assessing the appropriate age group that the film is suitable for. However, five months after the Ministry acknowledged receiving the recommendations, Benegal tells mid-day that he hasn’t heard from them yet.

“I have no idea what happened to the detailed report that we had submitted. The first part was given to them in April and the next in October. But, we haven’t received an official or informal update,” he says. The recommendations were to be formulated into a Bill and introduced in the Parliament’s winter session. However, Benegal says the Bill is yet to be drafted. “The I&B Ministry assured us that it would take matter further in January. But, the communication was rather unclear,” Benegal says.

Speculation is rife that the initiative is in a limbo with powers shifting from Arun Jaitley to Venkaiah Naidu.
Minister of State, Rajyavardhan Rathore, who has been involved with the Committee since its inception, remained unavailable for comment. Despite the delay, Benegal doesn’t feel his efforts have been in vain. “When you do things for the Government, you have to be prepared that they [government agencies] will take time [to act]. On the brighter side, when the changes are brought to effect, they will remain the so for a long time to come.”